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Khalifa Ali bin Abu Talib - Months of Suspense

Overtures for peace

During these months peace, overtures were made, and peace missions were exchanged between the two sides almost everyday. The missions that were sent by Ali to Muawiyah tried to make out the point that Muawiyah should fear God, and refrain from creating dissentions among the Muslims. He was told that as Ali had been elected as the Caliph, it was his bounden duty to owe allegiance to him. It was also pointed out that in view of his learning, piety, relationship with the Holy Prophet, services to Islam, and other extraordinary qualities of head and heart, he was the most suitable person to be the Caliph of the Muslims. The stand of Muawiyah was that the election of Ali was irregular as it had been held under the pressure of the rebels. He accused Ali of involvement in the murder of Othman. He observed that he was the cousin of Othman, and according to the injunctions of Islam it was incumbent on him to seek "Qasas" for the murder of Othman.

To the charges of Muawiyah, the emissaries of Ali maintained that the election of Ali had been elected by all the citizens of Madina. All previous regular elections of the Caliphs had been held by the people of Madina, and in the case of the election of Ali the electorate was the same. The rebels did not exercise pressure on the people of Madina to elect a particular person; their pressure was only to the extent that they should elect some person as the Caliph. The claims of all the eligible candidates were duly considered, and by general consensus, Ali was superior to all of them. In fact all other candidates had withdrawn their claims. If any, Muawiyah's contention was that Ali's election was vitiated because of his involvement in the murder of Othman. The emissaries of Ali observed that this accusation was false. Ali was neither directly nor indirectly involved in the assassination of Othman. As a matter of fact, Ali had tried his best to support Othman. They emphatically pointed out that to levy such a charge on a person of the caliber of Ali was sheer sacrilege. Muawiyah maintained that if Ali had supported Othman sincerely, the tragedy would have been avoided. The emissaries of Ali posed the question: You were entrenched in power in Syria, and you had an army at your disposal. You were fully aware of the difficulties of the situation. Why did you not take proper steps to defend Othman." Muawiyah had no satisfactory reply to this question. The emissaries of Ali thereafter posed another question: "During the last days of the siege of his home, Othman had asked the provincial governors including yourself to send him aid against the rebels. Why did you and the provincial governors not send the aid. Are you then not indirectly responsible for the assassination of Othman." Muawiyah had no answer to this question as well and that led to the exchange of hot and bitter words between Muawiyah and the emissaries of Ali.

The emissaries of Ali asked a further question: You say that if Ali had supported Othman the tragedy would have been avoided. Did Ali have any force at his disposal. If you who had a large army at your disposal could not avert the tragedy, how could Ali who had no force at his disposal avert the tragedy." Muawiyah said that if Ali was not involved in the murder of Othman he should hand over these murderers to him. The missions sent by Ali pointed out that the proper way to ask for Qasas was that he should offer the oath of allegiance to Ali and thereafter file a claim for Qasas before him. The delegates brought home to Muawiyah the fallacy in his stand. If his demand for Qasas was genuine he should have strengthened the hands of Ali to enable him bring the murderers of Othman to book. By rebelling against the authority of Ali he had enabled the murderers of Othman seek an alliance with Ali. In such circumstances it was impossible for Ali to take action against the persons who were his allies. It was pointed out with great force that the responsibility for complicating the state of affairs devolved on Muawiyah and not on Ali, who would have himself avenged the murder of Othman if difficulties had not been created in his way.

Muawiyah suggested that a way out of the difficulty was that he should be recognized as the Caliph of Syria while Ali could continue as the Caliph of the rest of the Muslim world. Ali did not agree to this proposal as this was regarded to be repugnant to the spirit of Islam. Ali also pointed out that this proposal on the part of Muawiyah had let the cat out of the bag and betrayed his real intention. That provided a conclusive proof to the effect that the cry for vengeance for the blood of Othman was merely a pretext to capture power.

Ali sent a message to Muawiyah that if all this fuss was about the caliphate between himself and Muawiyah, why create dissentions among the Muslims and shed the blood of innocent persons? In the usual Arab way, Ali proposed a duel with Muawiyah. It was pointed out that in that way whosoever survived would be the Caliph. 'Amr b Al Aas advised Muawiyah that the proposal of Ali should be accepted. Muawiyah hesitated to accept the proposal for he knew that Ali had so far fought hundreds of duels, and in all such duels his adversaries had been killed. Amr b Al Aas pointed out that such was the case many years ago. With the lapse of time, Ali had grown fat and unwieldy and in any personal combat he was apt to lose the balance and be overpowered. Muawiyah, however, could not make up his mind to take the risk of a personal combat with Ali and he refused the offer.

Thereafter all negotiations for peace broke down and both the sides began to prepare for war.

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