Battle of the Camel

For other battles in the area, see Battle of Basra.
Battle of the Camel
Part of the First Fitna

Ali and Aisha at the Battle of the Camel
Date7 November 656
LocationBasra, Iraq
Result Rashidun Caliphate victory
Rashidun Caliphate Aisha's forces and Umayyad Caliphate
Commanders and leaders
Ali ibn Abi Talib
Malik al-Ashtar
Hasan ibn Ali
Ammar ibn Yasir
Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr
Abdul-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr
Muslim ibn Aqeel
Harith ibn Rab'i
Jabir ibn Abd-Allah
Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah
Abu Ayyub al-Ansari
Abu Qatada bin Rabyee
Qays ibn Sa'd
Qathm bin Abbas
Abd Allah ibn Abbas
Khuzaima ibn Thabit
Muhammad ibn Talha  
Zubayr ibn al-Awam  
Kaab ibn Sur  
Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr
Marwan I  (POW)
Waleed ibn Uqba  (POW)
~20,000[1] ~30,000[1]
Casualties and losses
~5,000[2][3] ~13,000[2][3]

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.[4]

Before the conflict

The Rashidun Caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib forgave his opponents after the Battle of the Camel.

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 the 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.

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.[5][6]

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.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9]


Some chieftains of the Kufa tribes contacted their tribes living in Basra.[7] A chieftain contacted Ali to settle the matter.[7] Ali did not want to fight and agreed to negotiate.[7] He then contacted Aisha and spoke to her,[7] "Is it not wise to shed the blood of five thousand for the punishment of five hundred."[7] She agreed to settle the matter.[7] 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."[7] 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.[7] They thought that if a settlement was reached, they would not be safe.[7] The Qurra launched a night attack and started burning the tents.[7] 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.[7] 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[7] saying that he had disgraced his tribe by leaving the field.[7] According to some Shia accounts Marwan ibn al-Hakam shot Talha,[10] who became disabled in the leg by the shot and was carried into Basra, where he died later of his wound.[11][12][13] According to Shia sources Marwan said,

By God, now I will not have to search for the man who murdered Uthman.[14]

In the Sunni sources it says that he said that Talha had disgraced his tribe by leaving the field.[7]

With the two generals Zubair and Talhah gone, confusion prevailed as the Qurra and the Umayyads fought.[7][15]

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.[7] 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 piled 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.[16]

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.[7][17] 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.[18][19]

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."[19][20]


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.[17]

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.[11]

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.[21]

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.[5]

Ali was later killed by a Kharijite named Abd-al-Rahman ibn Muljam while he was praying in the mosque of Kufa.[22]

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.[23]

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.[24]

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.[25] 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."[26]

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.[27]


Soldiers of Caliph Ali's Army

Soldiers of Aisha's Army

Others involved



  1. 1 2
  2. 1 2 Jibouri, Yasin T. Kerbalā and Beyond. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse, 2011. Print. ISBN 1467026131 Pgs. 30
  3. 1 2 Muraj al-Thahab Vol. 5, Pg. 177
  4. Mernissi, Fatima. "A Feminist Interpretation of Women's Rights in Islam". Retrieved 2014-04-30.
  5. 1 2 Nahj al Balagha Sermon 72
  6. Medieval Islamic civilization By Josef W. Meri Page 131
  7. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 Nadvi, Sulaimān. Hadhrat Ayesha Siddiqa: Her Life and Works. Safat, Kuwait: Islamic Book, 1986. Print. Pg. 44
  8. Dr. Mohammad Ishaque in Journal of Pakistan Historical Society, Vol 3, Part 1
  9. Sir John Glubb, The Great Arab Conquests, 1967, p. 320
  11. 1 2
  14. Ibn Saad, Tabaqat, vol. III, p. 223
  15. The Early Caliphate, Maulana Muhammad Ali, Al-Jadda Printers, pg. 169-206, 1983
  17. 1 2 William Muir, The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline and Fall from Original Sources. Chapter XXXV: "Battle of the Camel". London: 1891. p. 261.
  18. Sahih Al Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Number 352
  19. 1 2 The shadow of the sword, The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World, Tom Holland, ISBN 9780349122359 Abacus Page 409
  20. See:
  22. Tabatabae (1979), page 192
  23. Sahih Al Bukhari Volume 9, Book 88, Number 228: Narrated by Abu Al-Minhal. When Ibn Ziyad and Marwan were in Sham and Ibn Az-zubair took over the authority in Mecca and Qurra' (the Kharijites) revolted in Basra, I went out with my father to Abu Barza Al-Aslami till we entered upon him in his house while he was sitting in the shade of a room built of cane. So we sat with him and my father started talking to him saying, "O Abu Barza! Don't you see in what dilemma the people has fallen?" The first thing heard him saying "I seek reward from Allah for myself because of being angry and scornful at the Quraish tribe. O you Arabs! You know very well that you were in misery and were few in number and misguided, and that Allah has brought you out of all that with Islam and with Muhammad till He brought you to this state (of prosperity and happiness) which you see now; and it is this worldly wealth and pleasures which has caused mischief to appear among you. The one who is in Sham (i.e., Marwan), by Allah, is not fighting except for the sake of worldly gain.
  24. Mernissi, Fatima (1987). The Veil and the Male Elite. New York: Basic Books. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-201-63221-7.
  25. Mernissi, Fatima. The Veil and the Male Elite. Basic Books. ISBN 0-201-52321-3.
  26. Spellberg, D.A. (1994). Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 102. ISBN 978-0-231-07999-0.
  27. Spellberg, D.A. (1994). Politics, Gender, and the Islamic Past. Columbia University Press. p. 102. ISBN 978-0-231-07999-0.
  28. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Razwy, Ali Asgher. A Restatement of the History of Islam & Muslims: 579 to 661 CE. Stanmore: World Federation of KSI Muslim Communities, 1997. Print. Ch. 62
  29. 1 2 3 4 Islamic period
  30. 1 2 3 4 Restatement of History of Islam The Battle of Basra on
  32. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 Madelung, Wilferd. The Succession to Muḥammad: A Study of the Early Caliphate. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997. Print. ISBN 0521646960 Pg. 18

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Preceded by
Muslim conquest of the Levant
Muslim battles
Year: 656 CE
Succeeded by
Battle of Siffin

Coordinates: 30°30′00″N 47°49′00″E / 30.5000°N 47.8167°E / 30.5000; 47.8167

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