The History of al-Ṭabarī Vol. 17

The First Civil War: From the Battle of Siffin to the Death of ʿAlī A.D. 656-661/A.H. 36-40

Translated by G. R. Hawting

Subjects: Middle East Studies
Series: SUNY series in Near Eastern Studies
Paperback : 9780791423943, 272 pages, March 1996
Hardcover : 9780791423936, 272 pages, March 1996

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Table of contents



Translators Foreword

The Events of the Year 36 (cont'd) (656/657)

The Departure of `Ali b. Abi Talib for Siffin

`Ali Orders the Construction of the Bridge over the Euphrates

The Battle "by the Water"

`Ali Calls Mu'awiyah to Obedience and Unity

The Events of the Year 37 (657/658)

The Truce between `Ali and Mu'awiyah

The Organization of the Military Units (Kata'ib) and Preparation of the Troops for Battle

The Intensity of the Fighting

The Killing of `Ammar b. Yasir

Hashim b. `Utbah al-Mirqal and the "Night of Howling"

The Raising of the Masahif and the Call for Arbitration

`Ali Sends Ja'dah b. Hubayrah to Khurasan

The Secession of the Khawarij from `Ali and His Companions, and Their Subsequent Return

The Meeting of the Two Arbitrators at Dumat al-Jandal

The Actions of the Khawarij at the Time of `Ali's Sending Abu Musa to the Arbitration, and the Battle at the Canal

The Events of the Year 38 (658/659)

The Killing of Muhammad b. Abi Bakr in Egypt

The Killing of Muhammad b. Abi Hudhayfah

The Episode of Ibn al-Hadrami, Ziyad, and A'yan

The Opposition of al-Khirrit b. Rashid and the Banu Najiyah to `Ali, and al-Khirrit's Separation from Him

The Events of the Year 39 (659/660)

Mu'awiyah Sends His Forces into `Ali's Territories

The Sending of Ziyad to Fars

The Events of the Year 40 (660/661)

Mu'awiyah Sends Busr b. Abi Artat with 3,000 Fighting Men to the Hijaz

The Circumstances of Ibn `Abbas' Going to Mecca and Leaving Iraq

The Circumstances of the Murder and Death of `Ali

The Length of His Caliphate

His Physical Appearance

His Ancestry

His Wives and Children

His Governors

Aspects of His Conduct

Bibliography of Cited Works


This volume 17 of al-Tabari's great 40-volume history of the Arabs treats the first Civil War, 656-661.


Many of the events treated in this volume have become part of the historical consciousness of Muslims. The first civil war of Islam, the Fitnah, is widely seen as of decisive importance in dividing the Muslims into three major traditions, Sunnis, Shi'is, and Kharijis, which have persisted until today. Although this division may be an over-simplification of a much more complex process of community formation, the events narrated here are certainly of great importance in the early history of Islam.

The volume is focused on the struggle between the caliph ʿAlī and his rival and eventual successor as caliph, Mu'awiyah, the first caliph of the Umayyad dynasty. About half of the material is concerned with the confrontation between the two at the battle of Siffin in 657, the fighting, the ending of the battle when the Syrian supporters of Mu'awiyah are described as having attached Qu'ranic texts to their lances, and the subsequent negotiations between the two rivals which resulted in the dispute's being put to arbitration. Much detail is also provided about ʿAlī's struggle against the Kharijis, his former supporters who had turned against him as a result of his agreement with Mu'awiyah to accept arbitration; the revolt against ʿAlī in regions of Iraq and Persia around the northern edges of the Persian Gulf, which involved Christians, as well as Muslims, Arabs, and such non-Arab groups as Kurds; the events in Egypt that led to the burning of 'Ali's representative there in the skin of a donkey; and the murder of by ʿAlī Ibn Muljam, the account of which sometimes reads as if it were a popular story.

Al-Ṭabarī 's text makes available a wealth of detail in narratives collected from the now lost compilations of scholars of earlier generations. The bulk of the material is cited from the famous Abu Mikhnaf, who died in A.D. 774, but there are also many reports from other traditionists and narrators whose materials would be largely unknown to us if it were not for the work of al-Ṭabarī. The volume contains a number of speeches and letters attributed to the Prophet's son-in-law and cousin ʿAlī, including his deathbed speech to his sons, and there is also a version of the document drawn up by ʿAlī and Mu'awiyah in which they agreed to appoint arbitrators.

The Arabic text of the Leiden edition of al-Ṭabarī has been compared with the more recent Cairo edition and with the substantial parallel passages in such other works as the Waq'at Siffin of al-Mingari and the Sharh Nahj al-Balaghah of Ibn Abi' l-Hadid, as well as other sources, in an attempt to provide a secure text for translation. Individuals and places are identified in the footnotes, further references to sources and secondary literature are provided, and textual problems and historical matters are discussed. The volume contains a bibliography and index.