REBELLION AT AL-BASRA
36 A.H. / 656 A.D.
BUT, before crossing arms with Mu'awiya, heavy work was in store for 'Ali.
Returning from Mecca, 'Aisha was met on her way to Medina by the tidings of 'Othman's death and 'Ali's accession to the Caliphate. "Carry me back," cried the incensed and impetuous lady; "carry me back to Mecca. They have murdered the Caliph. I will avenge his blood."
In the early period of 'Othman's troubles, 'Aisha, like others had contributed her share towards fomenting public discontent. But she was no party to the cruel attack of the conspirators, and had in fact sought to detach her brother from them by inviting him to accompany her to Mecca. Vain and factious, she had never forgiven the unhandsome conduct of 'Ali on the occasion when her virtue had been doubted by the Prophet1 and now she would gladly have seen Az-Zubeir succeed instead. In place therefore, of continuing her journey home, she turned and went straightway back again to Mecca. There the disaffected gathered round her, while from her veiled retreat she plotted the revenge of 'Othman's blood, and with shrill voice harangued her audience on the enormous crime that had desecrated the Prophet's home and resting-place.
Thus when Az-Zubeir and Talha reached Mecca, they found sedition already well advanced. The numerous adherents of the Umeiyad house, who had fled thither on the Caliph's death, or still were resident at Mecca, and
1 Life of Mohammad, p. 301 et seq.
1 Life of Mohammad, p. 301 et seq.
the factious and servile mass at large, listened eagerly to their tale.
"They had left the men of Medina," said Talha and Az-Zubeir, "plunged in perplexity. Right had been confounded so with wrong that people knew not which way to turn. It was for Mecca now to lead, and punish traitors who had slain their Caliph." The standard of rebellion thus raised, many flocked around it. Al-Basra was to be the first object of attack, a city favouring the claims of Talha; while Ibn 'Amir, the late governor and friend of 'Othman, had still an influential following there. The treasure he had brought away, as well as that carried off by Al-'Ala from the Yemen, was now expended in equipping the force and providing it with carriage. 'Aisha, spurning the restraints of sex, prepared to join the campaign and stir up the men of Al-Basra, as she had stirred up those of Mecca. Hafsa was with difficulty restrained by her brother 'Abdallah son of 'Omar (who had just fled from Medina, and held aloof from either side) from following her sister-widow. At length, some four months after 'Othman's death, the rebel army set out 3000 strong, of whom 1000 were men of Mecca and Medina. 'Aisha travelled in her litter on a camel, destined to give its name to the first engagement in the civil war. The other widows of Mohammad residing at Mecca accompanied her a little way, and then returned. As they parted, the company gave vent to their feelings and wept bitterly at the louring outlook;"there was no such weeping, before or after, as then; so that day was called The Day of Tears."
Questions began to arise whether Talha or Az-Zubeir would in event of victory be the Caliph; but 'Aisha, staying the strife, as premature, desired that 'Abdallah son of Az-Zubeir should lead the prayers; and it was given out that the choice of the future Caliph would be left, as heretofore, to the men of Medina. Sa'id, ex-governor of Al-Kufa, distrusting the motives of the leaders, turned aside at the last moment, and with his company went back to Mecca. As the remaining cavalcade swept by him, shouting that they were on their way to destroy the murderers of 'Othman, Sa'id cried out, "Whither away? the objects of your vengeance (meaning Talha and Az-Zubeir) are on their camels' humps before your eyes. Slay them both and
return then to your homes!" It is not improbable that with both of these, and their followers also, ambition was mistaken for desire of just revenge. In the whirl of passion, party-cry too often takes the place of reason; and we need not doubt that both leaders and followers had wrought themselves into the belief that punishment of the high treason enacted at Medina was their real object.
Notwithstanding all this parade of justice, the conscience of 'Aisha was ill at ease. As they journeyed through the desert, her camel-driver beguiled the tedium of the night by calling out the names of the hills and valleys through which they passed. Approaching a Bedawi settlement, the dogs began to howl;The Valley of Al-Hau'ab! cried the guide, noting their progress. 'Aisha started and screamed. Something dreadful which Mohammad had spoken about the barking of the dogs of Al-Hau'ab, flashed across her memory. "Carry me back," she cried; and, making her camel kneel, she hastily alighted from her litter. "Alas and alas!" she continued, "for I heard the Prophet say, reproaching us, as he sat surrouded by his wives one day 'O that I knew which amongst you it is at whom the dogs of Al-Hau'ab will bark!' It is me! it is me! the wretched woman of Al-Hau'ab. I will not take another step on this ill-omened expedition." They sought to persuade her that the guide had mistaken the name; but she refused to stir, and the army halted for a whole day. In despair, they bethought them of a stratagem. The following night, they raised the cry that 'Ali was upon them. The greater terror prevailing, 'Aisha hastened to her camel and resumed the march.
The alarm, feigned for the purpose, was not altogether groundless. When rumours of the defection first reached Medina, 'Ali refused to move against the malcontents so long as no overt act of rebellion threatened the unity of Islam. But shortly after, news arrived of the design on Al-Basra. At the first, 'Ali was disposed to congratulate himself that the conspirators had not made Al-Kufa, with its greater Bedawi population, their object. Ibn al-'Abbas, however, pointed out that Al-Basra was really the more dangerous, because fewer of the leading chiefs were there, able to curb the people and repress rebellion. 'Ali
admitted this; and, now thoroughly alarmed, gave orders that the column destined for Syria should march instead to Nejd, hoping thereby to intercept the rebels on their way to Al-Basra. But the people still hung back. At last a column of 900 men was got together, at the head of which 'Ali himself marched hastily in pursuit of the insurgents; but on striking the Mecca road he found that they had already passed. Not being equipped for further advance, he halted there. Messengers were sent to Al-Kufa, Egypt, and elsewhere, demanding reinforcements; and' for these the Caliph waited before he ventured forward.
To return to 'Aisha. The insurgent army, having resumed its march, reached Al-Basra, and encamped close by. Messages were exchanged, and Ibn Honeif, the governor, aware that the cry of vengeance on the regicides really covered designs against his master 'Ali, called an assembly, to try the temper of the people. Finding from the uproar that the strangers had a strong party in the City, he put on his armour, and, followed by the larger portion of the citizens, went forth to meet the enemy, who, on their side, were joined from the town by all the malcontents. A parley ensued. Talha, the favourite at Al-Basra, Az-Zubeir, and even 'Aisha with shrill voice all three declaimed against the murderers of 'Othman, and demanded justice. The other side were equally loud in their protestations against 'Aisha and her attack upon their City. It was a shame, they said, and a slight on the memory of the Prophet for her to forego the sanctity of the Veil, and the proprieties of "Mother of the Faithful." 'Ali had been duly elected and saluted Caliph; and now Talha and Az-Zubeir were treacherously violating the allegiance which they had been the first to swear. These, again, both protested that the oath had been forced upon them. On this point the controversy turned; and from words they fell to blows. Night interposed; but fighting was resumed the following day, and with so serious a loss to the loyalists that a truce was called, and agreement come to, on the understanding that the facts should be ascertained from Medina. If force had really been put upon Az-Zubeir and Talha to take the oath, then Ibn Honeif would retire and leave the City in their hands.
An envoy accredited by either side was accordingly deputed to Medina. He arrived there while 'Ali was absent in his camp, and forthwith proclaimed his mission before the assembled City. The people at first were silent. At last, one declared that both Talha and Az-Zubeir had done homage under compulsion, whereupon a great tumult arose; and the envoy, having seen and heard enough to prove diversity of view, at once took leave.
When tidings of these things reached 'Ali, who was with his army in Nejd, he addressed a letter to Ibn Honeif, his governor. "There was no compulsion," he wrote, "on either Talha or Az-Zubeir; neither of these my adversaries was constrained otherwise than by the will of the majority. By the Lord! if their object be to make me abdicate, they are without excuse; if it be any other thing, I am ready to consider it." So when the envoy returned from Medina, and when upon his report the insurgents called on Ibn Honeif to evacuate the City according to agreement, he produced the Caliph's letter and refused. But the rebels had already obtained a footing within the City. Arming themselves, they repaired to the Mosque for evening service, and, the night being dark and stormy, were not perceived until they had overpowered the bodyguard, entered the adjoining palace, and made Ibn Honeif a prisoner. On the following day, a severe conflict raged throughout the City, which ended in the discomfiture of 'Ali's party, and so the government passed into the hands of Talha and Az-Zubeir. True to their ostensible object, these now made proclamation that every citizen who had engaged in the attack on 'Othman should be brought forth and executed. The order was carried rigorously out, and great numbers were put to death. The life of Ibn Honeif was spared. Set at liberty, his head and beard were shaven, and his eyelashes and moustaches clipped; and in this sorry plight the ousted governor made the best of his way back to 'Ali.
The insurgents communicated tidings of their success to Syria. 'Aisha also wrote letters to Al-Kufa, Medina, and the Yemen, dissuading the people from their allegiance to 'Ali, and stirring them up to avenge the death of 'Othman.
Meanwhile the Citizens of Al-Basra swore allegiance
to Talha and Az-Zubeir conjointly. To avoid appearance of rivalry, prayers were conducted alternately by a son of each. Little active sympathy was evoked by the usurpers. Talha proclaimed an expedition against 'Ali. But no one responded to the call, and his spirits fell. Thus some weeks passed uneasily, till the City was aroused by the announcement that 'Ali with an army was in full march upon it.
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