Dr. Aleem Ashraf Jaisi, eminent Indian scholar of classical Islamic studies rightly opines in one his recent Arabic writings that our problem lies in two things:
First is that we discuss our doctrinal [Aqaidi], philosophical and rhetorical [Kalami] issues relying on the books of jurisprudence, sermons [Khutbas] and books of al-Fadail [virtues].
Secondly, we believe in our Sheikhs and Ulema in such a blind way which makes their statements tantamount to infallibility [Ismah]. We cannot even imagine the possibility of error or sin from them, especially the first generation of this Ummah. And if something is proved but is contradicting our perceptions or even hypothesis, we tend to maintain silence or justify our theological positions resorting to T’awil (allegorical interpretation) and sometimes going to the extent of polemics. Examples abound in this regard. The battle of the Camel or Jamal is one.
Ijtihad (Rethinking) and “Ismah” (Immaculacy)
One of the essential Islamic doctrines is that of “Ismah” (immaculacy or infallibility) i.e being free from sins and human errors through divine help. But it can only be attributed to prophets and messengers. Rest of the people including the Prophet Muhammad’s companions (Sahaba) are liable to commit mistakes both in mundane affairs and religious matters. However, a companion of the Prophet does not lose the nobility of his companionship (Sahabiyat), if he/she happens to commit an intellectual mistake.
There have been certain events in the Islamic history when even the Prophet’s close companions seem to have committed ‘intellectual mistakes’ [Khata-e-Ijtihadi]. Of course, they might not be seen as deliberate or wilful attempts but rather inadvertent. By and large, their intellectual mistakes were based on their different ways of understanding the Quran and myriad interpretations of the religious rulings and edicts. This is what we call “Khata-e-Ijtihadi” in the jurisprudential terminology of Islamic theology (Fiqh).
According to the canonical rule in the Islamic jurisprudence, if a Muslim has the ability to carry out Ijtihad, he needs not to comply with the Ijtihad of any other Mujtahid (one who carries out Ijtihad). Next to the Qur’an and the Sunnah, Ijtihad has the most pivotal role to play in the Islamic rulings and edicts. Unlike the first two primary sources of the Shari’ah, which discontinued at the demise of the Prophet (pbuh), Ijtihad is a continuing process of intellectual thinking, creative re-thinking and brainstorming on contemporary issues and matters of religion. But it is allowed only for those who have a scholastic aptitude for deriving meanings and extracting rulings from the texts of Qur’an and Hadith. Since Prophet’s companions were the closest to the primary source of Islamic theology—the Prophet himself— and well-versed in the essential Islamic sciences, Ijtihad was a lawful prerogative for them. Nearly all companions of the Prophet (pbuh) were Mujtahid and, therefore, sometimes they did not rely on others’ Ijtihad and chose to act upon their own in the cases that did not clearly appear in the Qur’an or authoritative prophetic traditions.
Having known that each of the Sahabas (Prophet’s companions) was in a position of the Mujtahid and, thus, was rightful in adopting an approach of his own to deal with socio-religious and political matters, an authentic prophetic tradition should be kept in our view, which says: “If a wise person made his Ijtihad or the extraction of the verdict from original sources of legislation and he reached the correct verdict, he will get two rewards. And if he reached the wrong verdict, he will only get one reward” (reported by Bukhari, Muslim and Abu-Dawud).
Hence, the political disputes, internal conflicts and civil war-like situations that took place in the early Islamic era were actually a direct or indirect outcome of the Sahaba’s intellectual mistakes or disagreements concerning their Ijtihad. However, the Prophet’s companions cannot be supposed to further any petty interests or selfish ends in developing such theological disagreements. For God had purged their souls of baser instincts and evil emotions through the moral and spiritual counselling by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), as he says in the Quran:
“Certainly did God confer great favour upon the believers when He sent among them a Messenger from themselves, reciting to them His verses and purifying them and teaching them the Book and wisdom, although they had been before in manifest error.” (3:164).
The Battle of Camel (Jamal)
One of the most deplorable incidents in the Islamic history which stemmed from an intellectual disagreement or difference based on Ijtihad was the battle of Jamal. Mover than 5,000 people died in this battle but sill one cannot make a declarative statement as to which side was wrong or right.
In fact, the nature of this intellectual difference was political, rather than social or religious. But deplorably for the bloody Islamic history, it developed into a grave controversy and ended up in the form of an intense war. If we really adopt a realistic approach to analyze the case of the Camel battle, we need to go through the full story in order to understand the reasons and nuances of this battle.
Story of the Battle
After the assassination of the third Islamic caliph, Hazrat Usman (r.a) by a rebellious faction from Medina, two great companions of the Prophet (pbuh) Hazrat Zubair and Talha (r.a) asked Imam Ali (r.a) to punish the murderers of Hazrat Usman in accordance with the Qur’anic decrees. Imam Ali (r.a) opined that no one should be held accountable for the culpability of others and, hence, disagreed with them. He rather acted upon this clear and unambiguous injunction in the Quran:
“And no bearer of burdens shall bear another’s burden” (35:18).
On hearing Hazrat Ali’s standpoint that was contrary to their Ijtihadi position, the two companions of the Prophet (Zubayr and Talha) went to Makkah and held a meeting with Hazrat Aisha (r.a) to avenge the assassination of the late caliph Usman (r.a). She endorsed their viewpoint. At that time, Abdullah Bin Aamir was the Amil at Mecca. He got ready to support Hazrat Aisha (r.a). They proceeded to the city of Basra with an aim to trace out and crush down the conspirators and murderers.
On the other hand, in Madina, the rioters put pressure on Hazrat Ali (r.a) to fight a war against the coalition army. It was the time when Imam Ali’s elder son Hazrat Imam Hasan advised his father not to proceed against the Muslims. Imam Hasan, the elder brother of Hazrat Imam Husain (r.a), who was in his early age then, suggested his father not to enter into any armed conflict. Pacifist by nature, Hazrat Ali (r.a) tried his best to restore peace by the way of reconciliation. For this noble cause, he deputed one of his followers Qa’qa bin Umar to hold peace talks.
Hazrat Ali (r.a) announced to proceed to Basra the next day, but he affirmed that his mission would be peace rather than conflict. He also issued an official order that those who participated in the capturing of the deceased Caliph (Hazrat Usman r.a) in any way must leave his army. This created apprehensions among the hypocrites and internal enemies of Islam. The hypocrites and rioters felt that so far only Talha and Zubair were on the lookout for the murderers of Usman (r.a), now Ali (r.a) also seems to join them. He realised that if the two groups of Muslims came to a consensus and amicable understanding for the sake of deceased Usman (r.a), they will surely trace out the real culprits i.e. his own followers. Consequently, he called for a group meeting of his followers and instructed them to kill all the three companions of the Prophet (pbuh): Hazrat Talha, Hazrat Zubair and Hazrat Ali (r.a). However, he advised them not to leave the camp of Hazrat Ali (r.a) for the oblivious reasons.
Effort towards Reconciliation
As a matter of fact, the leaders of both the parties wanted to restore peace and avoid the war. They strongly felt that turning to war will lead them to nowhere. Even when both the armies came at odds with each other, peace treaties were undertaken and the cordial negotiations were successfully conducted. But the nefarious elements of Hazrat Ali’s forces (the hypocrites and internal enemies) who had stirred up the revolt against Hazrat Usman (r.a) developed an impression that any amicable understanding or settlement of the issue would jeopardise their petty interests. Therefore, they sabotaged the attempts of reconciliation and created such a situation that the two sides were compelled to take up arms against each other. They chalked out a strategic plan and prepared two small groups. One attacked the army of Hazrat Ali (r.a) and the other assaulted on the coalition army. Each party under the impression that the other made the attack, which they thought was the violation of their peace treaty, turned violent and sought retaliation. This is how the battle of Jamal took place turning into a fierce conflict between the two Muslim groups.
Of course, the battle of Jamal caused great havoc to the entire Muslim Ummah leading to the killing of thousands of Prophet’s companions including Hazrat Talha and Zubair (r.a) and arrest of Hazrat Aisha (may Allah be pleased with her). Nevertheless, it does not behove us today to put the blame of causing strife of Jamal, on either side. On one side is Hazrat Ali (r.a)—husband of the Prophet’s dearest daughter Hazrat Fatima (r.a) and son of his uncle—and on the other side is Hazrat Aisha (r.a)—the holy Prophet’s beloved wife and a versatile scholar of Tafseer, Hadith, Fiqh and other Arabic and Islamic subjects.
Serious Ramification of the Sufyaniyat
An unbiased and critical analysis of the incident of the Jamal makes it patently clear that the Fitnah of Sufiyaniat in Islam emanated from this battle.
Of course, it cannot be conceived, by any stretch of imagination, that the battle of Jamal took place due to any political interests envisaged by either of the two warring parties’ leaders—Hazrat Ali or Hazrat Aisha. It was, clearly, because of a theological difference entirely based on Ijtihad, which was later obnoxiously exploited by the mischief-mongers to further nefarious ends.
But this was, in fact, the first time when Muslims—that too highly ranked as the noblest generation of Islam—clashed and fought against one another. As a matter of fact, had it not been the case, another civil war-like situation would not have emerged in the battle of Siffin (A.D. 657) either. Thus, the threat of the Sufyaniyat in Islam would not have loomed large in our history. The Ummayad dynasty, under the reign of Ameer Mu’awiyyah (son of Abu Sufiyan) would hardly have turned the glorious era of Islam into an autocratic, despotic and dictatorial dynasty. Last but not the least, the saviour of Islam from the clutches of Yazidi evils, Imam Hussain, the holy Prophet’s beloved grandson would not have been martyred in the massacre of Karbala—the bloodiest event in the Islamic history.
*Ghulam Rasool Dehlvi is a classical Islamic scholar and English-Arabic-Urdu writer. He has graduated from a leading Islamic seminary of India, acquired Diploma in Qur’anic sciences and Certificate in Uloom ul Hadith from Al-Azhar Institute of Islamic Studies. Presently, he is pursuing his PhD in Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi. This article appeared at New Age Islam.