The History of al-Ṭabarī Vol. 16

The Community Divided: The Caliphate of ʿAlī I A.D. 656-657/A.H. 35-36

Translated by Adrian Brockett

Subjects: Middle East Studies
Series: SUNY series in Near Eastern Studies
Paperback : 9780791423929, 236 pages, December 1996
Hardcover : 9780791423912, 236 pages, January 1997

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Table of contents



Editors' Foreword

Translator's Foreword

The Caliphate of the Commander of the Faithful `Ali b. Abi Talib

The Events of the Year 35 (cont'd) (655/656)

An Account of the Allegiance—Who Gave It and When

The Settlement of the Affair by Giving of Allegiance to `Ali b. Abi Talib

The Expedition of Qustantin, King of Rum, against the Muslims

The Events of the Year 36 (656/657)

`Ali Sends Out His Governors to the Garrison Cities

Talhah and al-Zubayr Ask `Ali If They Can Leave

`Ali Leaves for al-Rabadhah on His Way to al-Basrah

The Buying of the Camel for `A'ishah and the Report about the Dogs of al-Haw'ab

`A'ishah's Remark "By Allah! I Will Seek Vengeance for the Blood of `Uthman!" and Her Departure for al-Basrah with Talhah and al-Zubayr and Their Followers

Their Entry into al-Basrah and the Battle between Them and `Uthman b. Hunayf

An Account of `Ali b. Abi Talib's Advance toward al-Basrah

The Commander of the Faithful Dismounts at Dhu Qar

`Ali b. Abi Talib Sends His Son al-Hasan and `Ammar b. Yasir from Dhu Qar to Get the Kufans to Mobilize with Him

`Ali Sets Up Camp at al-Zawiyah of al-Basrah

The Battle

Another Account of the Battle of the Camel

The Severity of the Battle on the Day of the Camel and the Account of A`yan b. Dubay`ah's Looking into the Howdah

The Killing of al-Zubayr b. al-`Awwam

Those Routed on the Day of the Camel Who Hid and Went off into the Surrounding Towns

`Ali's Grief over Those Killed at the Battle of the Camel, Their Burial, and His Gathering What Was in the Camp and Its Despatch to al-Basrah

The Number of Fatalities at the Battle of the Camel

`Ali's Visit to `A'ishah and the Punishment He Ordered for Those Who Offended Her

The Basrans' Allegiance to `Ali and His Division of the Contents of the Treasury among Them

`Ali's Conduct toward Those Who Fought Him on the Day of the Camel

Al-Ashtar Sends `A'ishah a He-Camel He Had Bought for Her and Her Exit from al-Basrah to Mecca

What `Ali b. Abi Talib Wrote about the Victory to His Governor of al-Kufah

`Ali Accepts Allegiance from the People and the Account of Ziyad b. Abi Sufyan and `Abd al-Rahman b. Abi Bakrah

The Appointment of Ibn `Abbas as Governor of al-Basrah and Ziyad over the Kharaj Tax

`Ali Equips `A'ishah to Leave al-Basrah

Accounts of the Carnage on the Day of the Camel

What `Ammar b. Yasir Told `A'ishah When the Battle of the Camel Was Over

The End of the Account of the Battle of the Camel

`Ali b. Abi Talib Sends Qays b. Sa`d b. `Ubadah to Be Ruler of Egypt

Muhammad b. Abi Bakr's Governorship of Egypt

`Ali Despatches Khulayd b. Tarif to Khurasan

`Amr b. al-`As Gives Allegiance to Mu`awiyah

`Ali b. Abi Talib Sends Jarir b. `Abdallah al-Bajali to Call Mu`awiyah to Acknowledge `Ali's Authority over Him

Bibliography of Cited Works


This volume 16 of Tabari's great 40-volume history of the Arabs treats the Caliphate of 'Ali I, 656-651


This volume of al-Ṭabarī's history deals with the traumatic breakup of the Muslim community following the assassination of the Caliph 'Uthman. It begins with the first seriously contested succession to the caliphate, that of ʿAlī, and proceeds inexorably through the rebellion of 'A'ishah, T'alhah, and al-Zubayr, to the Battle of the Camel, the first time Muslim army faced Muslim army. It thus deals with the very first violent response to the two central problems of Muslim history: who is the rightful leader, and which is the true community? It is a section with the weightiest implications for the Muslim interpretation of history, wide open to special pleading.

There are the Shi'a who depict ʿAlī as a spiritual leader fighting against false accusations and the worldly ambitious. Conversely, there are those who would depict him or his followers in a negative light. There are also the 'Abbasid historians, who, though anti-Umayyad, must balance a reverence for the Prophet's household (ahl al-bayt) with a denunciation of 'Alid antiestablishmentarianism. All these points of view, and more, are represented in al-Ṭabarī's compilation, illustrating the difficulty the Muslim community as a whole has faced in coming to terms with these disastrous events.